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Why Is Marital Therapy Dangerous for Domestic Abuse Survivors?

By Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.

Brief Description

We assume that a problem affecting two people in a relationship is material for marital or couples therapy. However, when the problem is intimate partner violence, this is absolutely not so! This article looks at how and why marital therapy can potentially exacerbate intimate partner violence.

Body of Article

I longed for my children’s father, my ex-husband, to stop his violent outbursts toward our family. The psychologist/doctor/family peacemaker in me said, “We just need to find the ‘right’ person or method to help fix this problem,” as though he had some physical aliment. This may sound familiar to those of you who have been there. Altercation after altercation drove me to desperately seek a referral from my pediatrician and from my obstetrician.

It was suggested that we see an “abuse therapist,” who was actually a marriage/family therapist. My professional background was in bio-behavioral medicine, so I was in foreign territory and eventually found out we were in the wrong therapy for the outcome I desired.

Marital therapy, couples therapy and family therapy are improper treatment scenarios to effect therapeutic change for domestic abuse. The problem is that these interventions are based on a family systems perspective in which the goal of the treatment is to maintain the homeostasis of the system.

Working from a systems approach, the therapist seeks to distribute responsibility for the pathology across the system. However, spreading the responsibility for battering in relationships equally to all parties in the relationship reinforces the abuse dynamic. It explicitly and/or implicitly blames the victim for the perpetrator’s behavior, and fails to promote personal accountability for the battering behavior by the abusive partner.

While this may keep the couple and family together, it does not─and cannot─end the battering. To the contrary, it exacerbates battering. Some clinicians view this method of treatment in domestic violence cases not only as ineffective in stopping battering, but also as dangerous for the victimized partner. That was certainly my experience. The altercations increased in frequency and in intensity─from bruises to welts, from fists to belts.

As a domestic violence survivor, my hope is that you seek appropriate intervention if intimate partner violence presents in your relationship. Many people, both healthcare and non-healthcare professionals, are unaware of the appropriate intervention for domestic abuse.

And even more alarming: few healthcare providers have a systematic method for assessing partner/spousal abuse (intimate partner violence). Without proper assessment, one could be treating your problem “in the dark.”

If you are indeed dealing with intimate partner violence, look to find a domestic abuse victim advocacy program and a batterer’s intervention program. These approaches treat battering similarly to the way addiction interventions treat substance abuse: that is, as the responsibility of the abuser. Until an intimate partner abuser is held accountable, domestic abuse continues over time, and is passed down throughout generations.

Author Bio

Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. is a psychologist, author, speaker and leading expert in identifying intimate partner violence and the subtle communication patterns of battering relationships. Author of All But My Soul: Abuse Beyond Control, Dr. King developed the Intimate Partner Abuse Screen to help people properly identify, understand and stop domestic abuse before it spirals out of control. Click the link for more information on how to end the hurt, recognize emotional and verbal abuse.

©Copyright 2007 Dr. Jeanne King Consultants, LLC All Rights Reserved.

This article is available for reprint so long as the author’s copyright, bio byline and live URL are included.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 29th, 2007 at 10:32 am and is filed under Healing Insights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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